Under New York‘s statute of limitations, victims of child sexual abuse must file civil lawsuits against their attackers and the organizations that failed to prevent the abuse by their 23rd birthday, or their claims are time-barred. New York’s statute of limitations is among the strictest laws regarding sexual abuse in the country.
However, a recent decision by a federal judge may keep that window during which victims may report the crimes open longer. According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block ruled that the state’s statute of limitations doesn’t necessarily disqualify a lawsuit filed by victims of child sexual abuse.
Block is presiding over the case filed by former students of Poly Prep Country Day School, a private school in Brooklyn, N.Y. Twelve former students filed a lawsuit against the school for its role in covering-up the crimes committed against them, some as far back as 1966. Those charges date well beyond the state’s statute of limitations laws but the victims believe the school’s active cover-up of the crimes should nullify that rule.
The students all claim they were raped and sexually abused by the school’s former football coach, Philip Foglietta, who worked at the school for a quarter-century. Foglietta died in 1998 but the former students say the school continues to hold the legacy of the coach in high regard and has continually denied any abuse took place. The students say Foglietta abused them during the school term and at a summer program hosted at the exclusive private school.
According to the report, attorneys representing the victims argued that the claims were still valid and attempted to do so by using some delicate legal footwork. Claims in this case were reliant on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and Title IX, a law generally associated with women’s sports and not sexual abuse claims.
Under the RICO laws, two victims’ claims were allowed to continue because each had donated money to the private school after they had graduated all while officials with Poly Prep continued to cover-up the crimes. The Title IX claims were allowed to continue because the victims of the former coach’s abuse were primarily of the same gender, the Journal report adds. These theories have generally failed in other recent attempts to circumvent the strict statute in New York.
This case is just the latest in a summer chock full of headlines detailing patterns of sexual abuse that occurred while higher organizations, such as schools and churches, conspired to keep these accusations and crimes a secret, thereby allowing them to persist in many cases. In New York alone, this is the third major sexual abuse scandal to receive national attention this year and the details involved in this latest case mirror those of the most widely known scandal, that which still has Penn State University reeling.
Abuse charges have recently become public against teachers and officials at Horace Mann, another private school in New York, as well as from within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious community that inhabits a section of Brooklyn. In each, the school and church are accused of ignoring or conspiring to cover-up crimes of sexual abuse against children.
At Penn State, convicted child sexual abuser and former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky received hundreds of years in prison for molesting 10 boys dating back to the mid-1990s and is accused of abusing possibly dozens more, including his adopted son, for years prior. The school continued to hold Sandusky in a high regard even after he resigned from his job with the school in 1999, nearly at the top of his profession, amid previous sexual abuse allegations.
Attempts to widen the statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes in New York have recently failed to get passed by state lawmakers. These recent cases in which the accusers had previously reported the crimes but were ignored provide more credence to the argument that that window should widen.